Thursday, September 10, 2009

120 hours in the Netherlands and a Review

Since this is, at least in part, a chronicle of my job hunting efforts this seems a good time to provide an update and to reflect back upon the summer's job search efforts. This will be helpful in gearing up for the fall blitz, since that is when most permanent positions and postdocs are advertized.

The summer was largely a quiet time for applications compared to the spring months and the rate at which I applied to positions dropped off somewhat. As I mentioned this was not unexpected. Nevertheless, I recieved three invitations for interviews including one in Boulder, Colorado and another in the United Kingdom. To cap off the summer, I was invited over to the Netherlands for an interview at the end of August.

Each position was very different from the others; one was a permanent staff position working on a specific space mission with some postdoctoral aspects. Another was a more classic purely limited term postdoctoral position working with returned data. The last was a permanent agency position doing some science, but mainly facilitating future space missions and the efficient and effective acquisition of science.

Given my experience, all of these positions are of great interest to me. But all have subtly different styles for interviewing candidates. The staff position was the closest to a traditional academic interview entailing an 8-hour, day long interview which focused on my technical competency alone. Another interview took place via Skype. The agency position was a two stage process with a telephone interview followed by a 45 minute in-person discussion focusing on my technical, communication and leadership competencies. This last interview was my first experience with that Engineering stalwart, the behavioral interview and I think that I learned some good lessons which I intend to apply to my preparation for future interviews.

Each of these three interviews was also a deeply valuable experience for me since they gave me a picture of the different working cultures and academic experience across three countries. I am familiar with the fiercely independent American experience from my graduate days. But the Europeans have a different, perhaps more collegial style which may have grown out of the necessity of forging alliances amongst so many different states with different interests in Space. I can't help but feel that each one of these experiences provides a little piece of the puzzle for my future career. Each different, but interlocking and necessary for my success.

While I have yet to hear back from any of these positions, I look forward to the feedback I will receive. It will make me a better interviewee, and highlight for me where I need to work hard to close any gaps in my experience.

Looking forward to the fall, I can already see a few positions that are of interest. One of these is a teaching position at a small liberal arts college. I believe that this is something I would like as well, since I can impart the knowledge that I have gained over the last ten years to students just starting out on their personal Quests.

But for now, I'll leave you with one image from the Netherlands. My wife and I took this picture of a kite we brought along with us to fly on the beach, as I relaxed and gathered my thoughts on the day before the interview. Never before had we been able to let the string out to its full length, but here in Noordwijk assisted by the on-shore breeze, the kite flew higher and more steady then it ever had before. Let's hope that's a good portent.

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